Thank goodness Jules Dassin's creative life has been so fulfilling, because his personal life has been filled with hateful persecution. He began his career as a filmmaker here in the U.S. and was blacklisted during the McCarthy era as a Communist based on accusations by fellow director Ed Dmytryk. He fled to Europe where he triumphed with this film and later the French language masterpiece Rififi (which Fran?ois Truffaut hailed as “the best film noir he'd ever seen”). Recently he was the target of anti-semetic hate crimes in 2000 when vandals graffitied his home with threats. No wonder his films have such a nihilistic bent, no wonder his characters are so dark and irredeemable.
In Night and the City, which was made in London amidst the McCarthy controversy, every character is a double crosser, every scheme a disaster, and every frame is ominous. Richard Widmark (who also starred in Pickup on South Street and a host of other noirs) is the leading man, Harry Fabian, a scheming, no-good hustler who is absolutely electric on screen; his desperate attempts to “be somebody” and his obliviousness to looming failure are downright cringe-inducing. It's one of the best portrayals of a scoundrel I have ever seen. The plot revolves around Harry's new plan to “rule boxing” in London with the help of an old wrestler named Gregorius who is at odds with his son who has spoiled the art of Greco Roman wrestling by making it into a gaudy spectacle (yeah, I'm not quite sure of the subtle differences between Greco Roman and any other wrestling either). But in order to make the plan pay off Harry needs money… Enter the foul couple who employ both Harry and his girl (played by Gene Tierney, who eventually gained crazy fame as the rumored basis for a doll that old ladies and old gay men collect), who each want something and will stop at nothing to get it, when they don't come up with the cash, Harry gets desperate. I won't give away more than that, but if you're a fan of noir and of real Joan Crawford-style acting, watch this film. In fact, Criterion has released all the key Dassin films, so why not watch them all.